Ever had Hammer fever? I suppose you have. MC Hammer was hot hot hot for a long while. Perhaps, he’s still hot because of “U Can’t Touch This.” That may be one of those songs that just keeps living on–itself something fine but the object of parody and nostalgia both.
Everyone these days seems to have Bieber fever (or fever for whoever’s hot this minute–Jonas Brothers, Lady Gaga, etc.). I rollercoaster around in music hotness, being mad for individuals in music at different times in my life: Bobby Sherman, Frank Sinatra (young and old), Elvis Presley young), Micheal Jackson (young), David Cassidy, Rob Thomas, Robert Plant (any time), Madonna, Liza with a Z (just that one album, that one concert), Judy Garland, Bach, Blossom Dearie, Nina Simone, Alice Cooper, Mozart, Bette Midler and so many more.
It all depends on the moment and what the moment demands musically. I also do that with albums: American Idiot is one of my favorites. And bands. I don’t just listen to the same old thing over and over–I like some change, but a few albums own me: The Beatles’s Abbey Road and Help, Metallica’s Black Album, Norah Jones’s Come Away With Me, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s Whipped Cream, Supertramp’s Even in the Quietest Moments, George Michael’s Faith, Led Zeppelin’s How the West Was Won (used to be Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti), and anything by Peggy Lee or Tony Bennett. And I change playlists depending on my situation: one playlist for working in archives, one for writing on this blog, one for summer 2011, one for fall 2009, one for walking, one for this road trip or that road trip, and so on.
And I KNOW I do that with books, too: fiction, nonfiction, SciFi, mystery, poetry, and so on. I read as I am drawn to read not according to any grand plan, and I like to find new books by recommendation or serendipity–a fine book cover sometimes will suck me in. I just met a fellow Victorian sensational novel fan, and we plan to gab quite a bit about novels and novelists we adore from the 1860s-70s in the next weeks as we work together. I expect some of my reading, then, in the coming weeks will be trashy Victorian novels. I’m okay with that. In truth, I’m really happy about it. And I’m starting this particular reading kick with a modern novel about the Victorians: The Difference Engine (a SciFi alternate history book by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, published in 1990). I forgot it was coming to my iPad this week and was happily surprised to find it waiting for me. Going to start tonight.
And that is the beauty of Serendipity–the openness of it–the thrill of “what’s going to happen next? what music will I love tomorrow? what image will spark my imagination today? what text will spin me off into a new direction in the next five minutes?” Serendipity has been strong lately–leading me to places that are both comfortable and deeply uncomfortable. Being in thrall to Serendipity means that you take what comes and you deal with it (you must always plan, of course, but you must know that plans change as they need to, and when you take your ship full ahead, one can surf the wash you create, but there can also be a wake behind the ship that is all about turbulence). Some of what comes is painful, and some is a little bit of heaven. Can it be both? Yes, it can.
Writing here in this blog? Same thing. Some great moments that I enjoy deeply. Some of the text horrifies me. But I will go public, nevertheless, with some of it, because it sort of feels, might could be, possibly perhaps actually be, that this could be good for me as a writer. This is my 30th post (or around there). Most of my posts are longish–from 1,200 to 2,500 words. I had one six-word blog awhile back. And while I love to write, I don’t write consistently in this blog. It’s not an every day sort of thing, but I really like to work out here, not short posts but longer posts packed with something weighty (or what feels weighty to me at the moment).
Here, I write about work, thinking, books, learning, people who inspire me, Writing Spaces (though I broke my oath to include it in every post here, no matter what… it just didn’t feel right to mention that amazing project in the bit about Elvis). Much of what appears here comes from somewhere else: a notebook, a napkin, a business card, an email (some printed out and stuck in the notebook), notes from conversations, or favorite quotes from a book, even ooh-la-la words I run across that I want to use someday. I use that notebook all the time, and then read through it to see if I might have had a writing-worthy thought once upon a time. Lots of my thinking from there bubbles up and comes alive here. One series of notebook entries I created while parked in home line, for what felt like two months, turned into drawings and an article that I enjoyed writing very much.
Since last October, I’ve cranked out 40,000 words maybe. And that’s only a rough estimate, and this is only one of the blogs I write in, and that number doesn’t reflect the texts I write that are not public online texts. Other (non-blog, non-work-related) texts have to be in the range of 50,000 words. I love to write. Love it. I write nearly every day, but sometimes not for days and days, then in one day, I’ll write 5,000 words. I write haiku; essays (personal, nonfiction, silly, fun); not many short stories anymore, though I enjoy those; and I would like to write a book about Victorian writing. Perhaps all the writing over the last year is partly a run up to that book. Maybe. I would love it if that was true.
I definitely have writing fever. It comes and goes, but it’s definitely fever. And I mean that in the best possible sense: urgent need vs. disease.
So what drives me? It’s deeply solipsistic to ponder upon my own writing and my own idiosyncrasies as a reader or music lover (and such a post might deserve categorization as “almost self-indulgent crap”–we’ll see). It’s just that I’m deep in my head at the moment–right before the term begins with deadlines aplenty.
In fact, I have a bit of a fever over a few September deadlines. It’s panicked fever sort of, but that’s not always a bad thing. Deadlines move me like nothing else does.
It also helps for me to think about how much I’ve been able to create in the last year or so, because if I’ve done that (though not that every bit is textual caviar), then I could possibly do the next things I must the coming few weeks. I never used to pay attention to what I wrote or how I wrote–I was just a writer since 1988. I changed how I saw myself that year and began to define myself as a writer. No matter what else I did, I was a writer. I am a writer. But I haven’t always thought so much about what that meant.
Writing matters to me. It helps me know who I am, what I believe, how I feel, what I think, make plans, and embrace what I cannot plan for. My writing, though, doesn’t always just matter to me–other people count on me: teaching partners, writing partners, students, colleagues at work, on various projects, and friends. I sometimes write text that is a culmination of personal conversations (see the letter to Alfred, Lord Tennyson–post-conversations with several women friends).
Occasionally, I come through like a trooper, a super trooper, for others, but I have crashed and burned. That’s not a pretty sight, but it’s usually a function of poor time management in the thinking phase rather than lack of ability to produce text (and that prevents me being able to produce the right text). It’s good for writers to reduce their processes to pieces and parts to understand patterns of production, habits, trends. THEN we can rethink what we do as writers if that’s needed (and it’s needed for me, a lot). I need guidance, for the writing I do for me and for others, even if that guidance comes from musing upon MC Hammer.
I love the part of “U Can’t Touch This” when Hammer sings: “Look in my eyes, man… U can’t touch this.” It reminds me of how intimate writing is–readers look into a writer’s eyes, a writer’s soul: look in my eyes, man, I’m writing for you. But you really can’t touch me, can you? You see in, but you may not get in all the way. There’s always a distance between us, between reader and writer.
I wonder if that’s what keeps us returning to the same authors over and over again–that close and yet not close relationship we develop? That’s just how it feels when I write–close and not close to the reader. I’m looking into your eyes; you are looking into mine; I’m telling a story of something that matters to me; and you see that. I often think of one particular person to write to–I have a friend in mind or friends. We are connected then: writer and audience (even if you don’t know that I chose “you” as my particular audience). Such writing is perfomative and very personal.
If you listened to my playlists, you’d learn about me just as you would from reading my words. Everything may be rhetoric and everything may be an argument, but it also may be the case that everything is a story. But it’s never the whole story, is it? You just don’t get all the details ever–it’s always a mask as well as a revelation. But it’s always for someone–every text is for someone, isn’t it? A text might end up being for 638,945 people (rhetorical velocity), but it begins as a text for someone.
Look in my eyes, man, I’m writing for you.